When someone dies and their estate plans hold some unpleasant surprises, you might consider challenging their will. Before you announce your intention to do so, however, give yourself time to decide if it is the right thing to do.
Will contests can create significant disruption for all involved. They delay the estate distribution and diminish its value as estate funds will be used to deal with the will contest. Ultimately, only you can decide if the personal and financial factors involved make the idea of contesting someone’s will a good idea or not, but there are a few things you need to consider before you start.
You can only contest a will on specific grounds
You might disagree with the deceased’s will, but that does not always mean you can challenge it. Only certain people can do so. You need to be either a beneficiary of the current will, a previous version of the will, or someone who would benefit if there were no will (as if the deceased died intestate).
If you do not fall into one of these three categories, you have no right to challenge the will. The law also limits the grounds on which you can challenge a will to the following circumstances:
- The person lacked the legal capacity to make the will: Typically, this means the person was mentally unable to know what they were doing.
- Someone unduly influenced the person: In other words, someone either coerced, bullied or tricked the testator into altering their will.
- The will is counterfeit: You suspect that the will that was presented to the court is an outright forgery or fake.
- The will has errors: State laws govern how will need to be made and registered, and you believe this will is actually invalid.
If you meet the requirements and feel you have grounds to contest a will, it might pay to seek legal advice before proceeding further. Understanding how the process works, how long it could take, and your chance of success are essential to an informed decision. An attorney can help you learn more — but act quickly before your chance disappears.